Grow your ability to delegate

Halley BockExecutives often struggle to delegate well, so I was impressed by advice I recently saw from Halley Bock, the president and CEO of Seattle-based Fierce Inc., leadership development and training experts. Following is an email interview I conducted with her about the model and how to apply it.

In your webinar “Best Practices? Three Things Employees Really Want” you discuss the Decision Tree Model for delegating tasks. Please briefly describe the four levels in that model.

Someone can be delegated a responsibility at four different levels of the Decision Tree. Each level has a clear, concise definition of what is expected for that project and sets guidelines on how to interact with the leader.

Fierce Decision Tree

  • Leaf decision: Make the decision and act on it. There is no need to report the action that you took.
  • Branch decision: Make the decision and act on it, but report the action on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
  • Trunk decision: Make the decision, but check in with the leader before taking action.
  • Root decision: These decisions are made with input from many people or are decisions and actions reserved for the leader.

At the root level, how can executives show employees that their perspective is important, even when the executive’s decision runs counter to the employee’s recommendations?

Although a leader needs to be able to make a decision, he or she also needs to be open to challenge and change. An executive should embrace diversity of thought and multiple, sometimes opposing, perspectives. The Fierce Team Model is an effective way to allow team members to express their thoughts and emotions, without becoming defensive or laying blame.

If you have a high-stakes decision to make, a problem to solve or an opportunity to evaluate, invite everyone who will be affected to learn about the issue, its significance and your desire to hear their perspectives. Ask employees, “Push back on anything I say that doesn’t match your view of reality. Tell me what I’m missing.”

Use the analogy of a beach ball to encourage and hear all perspectives. Everyone stands on a different color stripe of a beach ball, and sometimes it can be difficult to see the other colors, so make sure to ask what reality looks like from another stripe on the beach ball.

At the end of the conversation, tell employees what action you are prepared to take and when you will take it. Follow up with them once you have taken action and let them know the results and/or next steps. Everyone wants to be seen and heard, so even if your decision runs counter to their recommendations, employees will feel valued having had the opportunity to voice their opinions.

At the trunk level, how can executives share their expertise without taking back the authority that they have delegated?

Take this opportunity to coach an employee and give him or her the tools to come to a decision on their own, but with your guidance.

Start a coaching conversation where you ask questions about the decision your employee has made. How will this decision impact you? Others? The company? If nothing changes, what are the implications? What results will you and the company enjoy from this decision?

Encourage employees to interrogate their reality and coach them as an advice giver, without micromanaging or taking back authority.

At the branch level, how can the executive structure the reporting requirements to strike a balance between receiving timely information on which they can act, possibly giving the employee additional direction, and not overwhelming employees with reporting requirements or themselves with information overload?

Set clear expectations with your team and define what adequate communication looks like. Ask employees what they would like to hear and how they would like to receive that information. You need to define success and deliver upon the expectations. Establish acceptable response times. Perhaps an email ping means an employee can respond within 24 hours, whereas a phone call is more urgent and requires a two-hour response time.

The key is to have a two-way conversation where you establish communication guidelines together.

Is there a particular level at which many executives tend to stall? If so, what are your recommendations for moving past that level, out to the leaf?

There may be some difficulty moving team members from a branch decision to a leaf decision. Some executives may be uncomfortable with relinquishing total control or team members may really not be ready for the level of responsibility. Delegation takes time, effort, and energy. It will also, over time, foster an environment of accountability that is not paralyzed by fear.

To help move employees to new desired levels of responsibility, be honest. Communicate your feelings with employees and build a foundation of trust together. Perhaps you move staff members from branch to leaf more slowly.

Delegation is a powerful development tool. It empowers teams to take on new responsibilities, to grow in their careers, and to make decisions that can improve the entire organization.

Finally, what is most important for executives to remember as they strive to delegate more and give employees greater autonomy?

Effective delegation is rooted in trust among management and employees. It is about having conversations with your team that are candid and clear, and holding your employees able to accomplish what they have been tasked to do. If you have already built a culture of transparency and honesty, delegation will be that much easier.

What advice do you have for other executives about delegating?

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4 Responses to Grow your ability to delegate

  1. Pingback: The Training Nation Weekly Round-Up | Training Nation

  2. Marilyn says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this article. Empowering team members is a win-win for everyone. Advice to executives: before you delegate, ensure you’ve “built a culture of transparency and honesty” as the article states. Employees cannot make correct and intelligent decisions if the executives don’t provide all the required information — don’t hold back.

  3. I think the methaphor using the tree is excellent, I will use this in my team as well.

    There is one thing I would like to share from my experience: Whenever a team member makes a decision that I would have made differently, for a while my reaction was to correct the decision and make sure that in the future he checks with me before he makes decisions. One could say I turned leaf decisions into trunk decisions. This lead to a situation where team members are constantly checking their decisions with me.

    What I am doing now is that when these things happen is to dive deep into the decision making process of the team member and try to understand what made them make the decision the way they made it. This way I can then identify the root cause of the “wrong” decision making and work on it directly.

    • Columbia Books, LLC says:

      Thanks for sharing! I think your new approach likely will improve employees’ decision-making skills, too. That’s certainly a positive.

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